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Am I Responsible For My Elderly Parent?

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As our parents grow older – many adult children are feeling the pull of responsibilities not only towards their own spouse and children, but now to their aging parents as well. But what exactly are our legal and moral responsibilities to our parents?

Legally, some states (28 of them) have Filial Responsibility Laws on the books requiring adult children to financially care for aging parents. Morally, many adult children feel obligated to care for their parents as they age but family dynamics and psychological issues may impede that moral compass.

This group of individuals are caught in the “sandwich generation” – generally described as middle-aged adults who are caring for their own children as well as their elderly parents.

Responsibility of caring for an aging loved one is complicated – there are many factors involved, including emotional ones. I very much like Dr. Abramson’s advice on this issue.

“…treat caregiving as a business. Assign a “CEO” to organize the family team and let each member choose the tasks he or she will manage. Don’t hesitate to outsource, either: The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers is an invaluable resource for shifting some of the caregiving burden from family to trained professionals.” – Alexis Abramson, Ph.D lifestyle gerontologist and author of The Caregiver’s Survival Handbook: Caring For Your Aging Parents Without Losing Yourself

Caregiver burnout can come on much quicker than you think. Therefore, it’s extremely important to care for oneself FIRST as this will help to create and/or maintain a healthy relationship between caregiver and senior. At least, as healthy as it can be for that particular parent and child.

Am I Legally Responsible For My Parents?

Legally, there are laws in some areas that do require adult children to care for their parents financially. These are Filial Responsibility Laws.

These laws “impose a duty, usually upon adult children, for the support of their impoverished parents or other relatives. In some cases the duty is extended to other relatives.” (source: Wikipedia.org)

These laws are in place in some US states (28 of them) and some countries. These are…

Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

Countries such as Bangladesh, China, India, Germany, France, Taiwan and Singapore have their own versions of a Filial Responsibility Laws as well.

So, if you live in any of these areas then you are “legally” responsible for your aging parents as far as financial matters go.

Should We Look After Our Elderly Parents?

Moral responsibility to caring for an aging parent cannot be governed by law – it’s an individual accounting of doing what’s right and just. So, that definition of course would be different for each person.

For many adult children it may be hard to imagine that any child would not feel obligated to caring for their aging parent but the truth is – not all parent and child relationships are good ones. If the parent was an abuser it would be certainly understandable that their children would want to avoid caring for them as they grew older.

But, generally speaking, many of us will feel a sense of obligation to our parents and therefore feel that it’s morally our responsibility to help and/or look after our parents as they age – even if they may not want to.

Moral obligations would also run to siblings and family members as well.

When my mother became ill – she was still extremely independent but my older sister was having a difficult time dealing with our mother’s decline. I felt morally obligated to help my sister to care for my mother. It was the right thing to do – even though I really didn’t want to leave my home and my life.

But at the end of the day – what kind of relationship would I have with my sister if I didn’t step in to help?

Caregiving Should Be A Group Effort

There is no doubt in my mind from what I’ve seen as an Occupational Therapist and personally – that being a caregiver is an extremely difficult task and should be undertaken by a group vs. just one individual. So, seek support from family, friends and your community if you find yourself in the position of being the primary caregiver to your aging parent.

Thirty-nine percent of adults in the U.S. are caring for a loved one with significant health issues, so consider yourself part of a large — and growing — tribe of caregivers. – WebMD

Being a caregiver to an aging parent may in fact be the most difficult time of your life.

The physical, mental and emotional strain that it entails can be overwhelming and I have personally seen too many caregivers (who are usually women) put the needs of their senior parent(s) ahead of their own and sometimes their own families.

This never turns out well.

Yes, of course there may be times when you have to drop everything to take your elderly mother to the emergency room or urgent care so of course, there will be instances when you actually DO have to put their needs above everything else.

But this cannot be sustained without deep resentment – so – make a reasonable plan for yourself and your family and your elderly parent(s) so that YOU don’t get taken advantage of.

Caring for yourself is your number one responsibility.

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